First Nations uneasy chronic wasting disease will weaken food security

First Nations hunters uneasy

Knowledge keeper and hunter Robin Louie is worried.

Worried his people’s food security, traditional knowledge and culture will suffer yet another hit with the dreaded arrival of chronic wasting disease in their territory in the southern Kootenays.

“It’s a serious issue,” said Louie, an executive with the Ktunaxa Nation Council, which includes four First Nations.

“Our nations generally eat a lot of wild game.”

On Tuesday, B.C. launched its first set of new rules to try to stem the spread of CWD, also dubbed the zombie deer disease, after recently confirming two deer south of Cranbrook tested positive.

The fatal neurological disease has no cure and affects cervids like moose, deer, elk and caribou and is almost impossible to eliminate once it's established in wild populations.

Caused by abnormal proteins, or prions, that collect in the brain, spine and lymph nodes, the disease in its late stages leaves animals extremely skinny and exhibiting strange behaviour like stumbling, drooling and increased drinking and urination.

The province has tracked the disease’s advance from the west and south of the U.S. border with increasing alarm — particularly after it was found in animal populations within 50 kilometres of the B.C. border with Alberta and Montana in recent years.

The disease has far-reaching social, economic, and conservation impacts — especially for Indigenous populations that rely on hunting for traditional foods, the province’s 2023 CWD response plan states.

U.S. research indicates the disease has caused deer and elk declines in some locations when disease within a population reaches 20 per cent and 13 per cent of the animals, respectively.

Threatened caribou populations are vulnerable to the disease and would likely make their recovery even more difficult, the response plan said.

The three most southern herds of endangered southern caribou in Ktunaxa territory are already extinct as a result of impacts to habitat from human activity.

Moose in the region are also increasingly under pressure from similar threats, like logging, road building, climate change, wildfires and recreational hunters who have drawn moose tags, noted Louie.

“We haven’t hunted a moose in six years because of the low numbers,” said Louie, also a councillor for the Yaqan Nu?kiy (Lower Kootenay Band).

In his youth, he harvested three or four moose a year, Louie said. So, any potential threat to the deer and elk populations the band depends on is a concern, he stressed.

“We’re always worried that the elk and the deer are going to follow suit one day.”

Access to traditional food is essentially food security, Louie said, adding the Yaqan Nu?kiy rely heavily on wild game.

“Usually the community eats about 30 elks and 60 deer a year and we’re a small community with a little over 100 people living on reserve,” he said.

“That’s a substantial amount of food.”

Harvesting game is also foundational to his nation and family’s culture, tradition and identity, said Louie, who takes his children, other youth and non-Indigenous people hunting. He also shares the preparation, rituals and spiritual relationship the Yaqan Nu?kiy have with animals and their land.

“My job now is as a knowledge keeper, passing on what I got from elders and my older family members,” Louie said.

“Our cultural knowledge has everything to do with the animals.”

Youth learn how to skin and process the meat and hides, sinew, bones and antlers for other uses and tools.

Meat is also medicine in the community, he said.

People who are sick will request specific parts of the animal, like fresh hearts, kidneys and livers, depending on their illness.

In honour of a successful hunt, youth are offered a portion of the fresh game as part of a traditional ceremony.

“When we kill our animals, we still hold up the kidney and heart to our kids, say our words and they choose to be a hunter or warrior or both,” Louie said.

“If our traditional practices cannot be passed on, our culture starts disappearing, and it’s already been impacted severely over the years.”

The heavy reliance of Indigenous people on wild game may also mean they face higher potential health risks from eating infected deer, elk, moose and caribou meat.

There is no evidence to date that CWD has made the jump from animals to humans with fatal consequences like mad cow (Creutzfeldt-Jakob) disease did — another type of prion degenerative brain disease — after surfacing in British cattle in the mid-1980s.

Because of the unknown risk to humans, Canadian public health authorities warn that infected animals should not be handled or eaten.
Since some animals may not show symptoms, hunters in areas where CWD occurs should get meat tested before anything is used or consumed, federal authorities state.

B.C.’s preliminary defence to CWD is centred on the area where the first confirmed cases were found, working to confirm details and minimize transmission.

On Tuesday, the province ordered that any roadkill of moose, deer, elk and caribou in that immediate radius get mandatory testing. There are also restrictions on the transport or disposal of carcasses.

The disease’s hot zone includes south of Highway 3, south of Cranbook to the U.S. border, west to the Moyie Range and east to the Mcdonald Range.

Submitting deer heads for CWD testing has been mandatory for licensed hunters in high-risk areas along the borders in the southeast Kootenays since 2019. However, harvesters with treaty rights in their territory weren’t necessarily subject to all the same requirements as licensed hunters.

Louie said the next step is to have information sessions and discussions with Ktunaxa members about the arrival of CWD in their territory.

“We’ll look at submitting heads more often,” he said.

But waiting for test results will be a burden.

The community hunts when they require food and can’t necessarily store meat or wait for test results before eating it, he added.

“We really hope the government focuses on developing some sort of rapid test because nobody harvests more elk or deer than us.”

However, Louie is confident in Yaqan Nu?kiy’s ability to track animal populations for outbreaks, gather vital information on transmission and partner with conservation authorities to tackle the problem.

Regular licensed hunters typically only have eyes on animals during the hunting season, but their community is on the land interacting and harvesting animals year-round, he said.

The strong relationship with deer and elk populations means the nation has a solid understanding of their behaviour and range patterns, Louie said.

“We monitor the animals so much that we know where they come from, what their schedule looks like, and the paths they travel,” he said.

“If they are in areas they shouldn’t be or start acting irrational, we’ll have a good heads up.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer


Stolen trucks linked to break-ins, thefts in Castlegar

Crime spree in Castlegar

The Castlegar RCMP has released CCTV footage of a suspect in a series of break-ins linked to stolen vehicles.

Police are investigating multiple cases of vehicles and homes being broken into last weekend.

Most of the incidents occurred in South Castlegar in the Emerald Park and Cone Hill area. At least ten reports have come in. It appears the crime spree began just before midnight on Saturday, February 17 and continue into the early morning of Sunday, February 18.

A suspect or suspects smashed vehicle windows to steal property and also got into two homes, taking car keys and other items. In one case, a dark blue, 2016 Dodge Ram pickup with a canopy and bush bar was stolen from the 3900 block of 9th Avenue.

RCMP also recovered a dark grey, 2021 Ford Ranger that had been reported stolen in the Abbotsford area the week before. The truck had a stolen Alberta license plate.

The footage of the suspect shows a man with a medium build wearing dark clothing (note images were recorded in IR so clothing appears light colour). He had the hood pulled up and his face was partially covered.

Castlegar residents are being asked to review their home security and dash camera footage for any possible further clues about the series of break-ins and thefts. Anyone with information that could aid investigators is asked to call the Castlegar RCMP at (250) 365-7721.

This woman has been a B.C. 911 call taker, dispatcher for 45 years

45 years as 911 dispatcher

A B.C. woman is celebrating a longstanding career working as a 911 call taker and dispatcher.

Karen Hay has dedicated more than 45 years to emergency communications, picking up the call for help and serving the people of Vancouver and beyond.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she says.

But this is not the end for her — she’s still working.

“I feel sharper because I am working, to be honest,” she says. “Maybe I’ll try to put [in] 50 years and then go out with a big bang.”

Not only has she been a dispatcher and call taker, but she helped shape 911 into what it is today.

Back in 1977, she picked up the phone to survey people living in Vancouver for the Vancouver Police Department to ask if they’d like a new three digital emergency number.

"I think I worked on that for about three weeks and then that's where 911 all began,” she tells Glacier Media.

In the old building, she would answer the phone and hand-write physical cards to be sent up a conveyor belt to dispatchers.

Looking back on her career, she’s had almost every call one could imagine. She worked as a trainer, in coaching and development, and in 1996 was asked if she wanted to work for E-Comm.

“I’ve had everything from suicide attempts, where you have to keep them on the line until the police get there, to police car chases where I’ve been a dispatcher,” she says. “I’ve been involved in everything. It's a hard job, you know, but not everybody can do this job,” says Hay.

Hay also helped create Prime, an internal police record information management system.

"I've been doing what I've always enjoyed doing it. You come into work every day and you don't know what you're going to be dealing with,” says Hay.

Darcy Wilson, executive director of dispatch operations at E-Comm, described Hay as a pioneer and trailblazer.

"I think her dedication to the people that she served and helped in their worst moments for them and their families, that she was there for them,” he says of Hay's legacy. “And she wears her heart on her sleeve."

Wilson has worked with Hay for 20 years and says the job is a difficult one that not many people last two decades in, let alone four.

"Karen has stayed at the frontlines of this throughout her career, and she just flourished,” he says. "I think she’s touched people that’ll never know, they've been touched by her.”

Currently, Hay continues to work at E-Comm supporting teams across the entire organization.

To her fellow call takers and dispatchers, Hay hopes they’ll continue to be empathetic.

“Come in with a good heart... because you have no idea what that person's life is [like] on the end of that line,” she says, adding dispatchers are human beings too, doing their best.

“To know that you’ve helped that person and hopefully they got the help they needed, that’s monumental.”


FortisBC promotes hybrid heating systems

Hybrid heating promoted

FortisBC has been given approval by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) for a demand-side management plan aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of customers that use natural gas for space and water heating.

The company plans to spend $695 million on programs intended to lower the use of natural gas, including hybrid heating systems that combine electric heat pumps with high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. FortisBC already offers some rebates to residential customers for things like insulation, windows and doors that improve heat efficiency.

“With this funding, we can support some of the most challenging but impactfull ways to reduce energy use and help transform how customers use energy in their homes and businesses,” Joe Mazza, FortisBC’s vice president of energy supply and resource development, said in a press release.

FortisBC is hoping to reduce GHG emissions in B.C. by 740,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through its plan. According to FortisBC, that’s equivalent to taking 228,000 cars off the road. The lion’s share of these reductions are expected to come from buildings and industry.

A key part of the strategy is offering incentives to customers to adopt hybrid systems that would use electric heat pumps for heating, backed up by high-efficiency natural gas furnaces for cold winters when heat pumps alone might not cut it.

FortisBC is also testing a new kind of heat pump – one that uses natural gas, not electricity -- but which the company says “achieve energy efficiencies of more than 100 per cent, which reduce energy use and meet stringent energy standards while leveraging the strengths of the existing gas system.”

Highway 1 open to single-lane traffic after crash leaves debris, semis scattered across road east of Rogers Pass

Single lane open on Hwy 1

UPDATE 11:27 a.m.

Highway 1 is open again west of Golden.

Drive BC says single-lane alternating traffic has resumed near the scene of a crash involving a number of tractor-trailers, about six kilometres east of the East Boundary of Glacier National Park.

Drivers should expect delays.

There’s no word on when all lanes of the highway will reopen.

Update 10:00 a.m.

A number of tractor-trailers are involved in the collision that has blocked the Trans-Canada Highway west of Golden.

Images from the scene show at least one semi on its side and cargo from another load scattered across the highway.

Drive BC says the highway is still closed. The next updated is scheduled for 11:30 PST.

ORIGINAL 8:01 a.m.

A vehicle incident has closed the Trans-Canada Highway just east of Rogers Pass.

Drive BC says Highway 1 is shut near the Columbia West Forest Service Road, west of Donald. A multi-vehicle incident is reported about six kilometres east of the East Boundary of Glacier National Park.

Crews are on the scene but drivers are being advised to expect delays in the area.

Nuclear device stolen in North Vancouver recovered in Surrey

Nuclear device recovered

Surrey RCMP have recovered a piece of industrial equipment stolen from North Vancouver that contained potentially dangerous radioactive material.

North Vancouver RCMP issued a warning last week after someone stole a 2006 Mazda 6 from a Marine Drive parkade on Feb. 13, likely not knowing what was inside.

The nuclear soil moisture density gauge, which is used in construction and mining, can emit a small amount of gamma radiation. If not properly contained and handled, the radiation can damage human cells within 24 hours.

On Sunday afternoon, Surrey RCMP responded to a report of a suspicious item in a parking lot near 176th Street and 64th Avenue. Surrey Fire Services’ hazmat team collected the device, and it has since been returned to its rightful owner.

North Vancouver RCMP Const. Mansoor Sahak said the device was found in its original case and that it doesn’t appear to have been compromised.

“We’re just glad that the person who took it was not harmed, at least not that we are aware of, and that it didn’t cause any further danger to the public,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the stolen vehicle was still missing and the investigation into the theft remains active, Sahak said.

Trudeau boosts B.C.'s housing plan with $2 billion in federal financing

BC housing plan boosted

UPDATE 11:20 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government will be adding another $2 billion in financing to British Columbia's plan to build more middle-income rental housing.

Trudeau calls the provincial housing plan, known as BC Builds, "ambitious and fundamentally practical" and says the additional federal financing will help create another 8,000 to 10,000 new homes

The money comes on top of $2 billion in low-cost provincial financing to fast-track affordable rental developments on government-, community- and non-profit-owned and underused land

The province is also committing $950 million to build rental homes under the program.

B.C. Premier David Eby says the additional federal funding will be "transformational."

After the announcement, Trudeau is scheduled to visit a high school and meet students before an event at a community centre with seniors in the afternoon.

Trudeau's announcement comes as provincial policymakers return to the legislature for the throne speech to begin the spring legislative session.

The premier has said the upcoming session will see his government table 20 pieces of new legislation and a budget focused on helping families facing the high cost of living.

The provincial government passed legislation last fall to restrict short-term rentals and build more housing around public transit areas, and housing is expected to be a major focus again this spring.

ORIGINAL 5:35 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Vancouver today, set to make a housing-related announcement alongside Premier David Eby and Mayor Ken Sim.

Trudeau's public itinerary says he'll make the announcement this morning, and then head to a local high school to meet with students before an event at a community centre with seniors in the afternoon.

Eby said last week at a housing-related news conference he recently spoke with Trudeau about B.C.'s housing initiatives and there appeared to be federal interest in what the province was planning.

Trudeau's announcement today comes as provincial policymakers return to the Legislature for the throne speech to kickoff the spring legislative session.

The premier says the upcoming session will see his government table 20 pieces of new legislation and a budget focusing on helping families facing the high cost of living.

The provincial government passed legislation last fall to restrict short-term rentals and build more housing around public transit areas, and housing is expected to be a major focus again this spring.

Lisa Beare fills B.C. portfolio vacated by Selina Robinson, who quit over Gaza remark

Lisa Beare fills portfolio

British Columbia Premier David Eby has named a new post-secondary education minister to replace Selina Robinson, who recently resigned over comments about the Middle East.

Eby says in a statement that Lisa Beare, previously the minister of citizens' services, will fill the post-secondary education and future skills portfolio.

George Chow moves into the citizens' services position left open by Beare's appointment.

Robinson stepped down as a minister on Feb. 5 amid an outcry by pro-Palestinian groups and others in response to remarks she made during an online panel.

Her comment that modern Israel was founded on "a crappy piece of land" triggered accusations of Islamophobia and racism from critics.

Police said this month they had launched an investigation into reports of a death threat against Robinson, although no further information about the threat was released.

Beare represents Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows in the legislature.

Food, not poison ban, the culprit in rat proliferation, says rat catcher

Food culprit in rat growth

A year after a provincial ban on a poisonous bait used to control rodents, pest-control businesses are busier than ever trying to keep the rat and mouse population under control.

Last January, the province strictly limited the sale and use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which typically require just one feeding to kill the intended target.

The problem was that the poison does not break down quickly — a process called bioaccumulation — and predators such as owls that feed on the carcasses can themselves get sick and sometimes die.

To protect wildlife, bait containing Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone or Difethialone was taken off the shelves in B.C.

But Kurtis Brown, an associate certified entomologist with Victoria Pest Control, says any increase in the rat population is less about lack of poison than the abundance of food. “Having access to food just allows rats to have more litters.”

A popular recent video from Vancouver showed dozens of rats around a park in front of the Burrard Skytrain station, scurrying under the feet of commuters.

While some pest-control experts in Vancouver blamed the rodenticide ban for the rat proliferation, Brown pointed out the rats in the video could be seen feeding on birdseed scattered on the ground, likely from someone feeding pigeons earlier in the day.

“It was just a lot easier to poison them than to clean up the garbage the rats feed on,” said Brown, who has been in the industry for 21 years.

He said some of the growth in the rat population comes as homeowners increasingly grow their own food, compost food scraps and keep backyard chickens.

Rats can have up to six litters per year, with the spring and fall litters the largest, due to the abundance of food at those times of the year. Litters can be as large as a dozen, but the average is around eight. Compounding the problem is the fact that rats can reach sexual maturity in as little as six weeks.

Nests consists of family units of between five and 10 rats, with multiple nests making up a colony.

“I once captured 100 rats in 30 days, with a total of 306 at the end of four months in a downtown restaurant,” said Brown, as he surveyed a rocky embankment in the Bay and Douglas area that he estimated contained a colony of more than 50 rats.

He said the two most common types of rats on Vancouver Island are the roof and Norway rat, both of which can breed effectively year-round, thanks to our temperate climate.

The rodenticide ban has meant homeowners have to pay more to eradicate rodents, as trapping rats becomes one of the only ways to cut down on their population.

“Setting down a bait station and traps is a lot more time-intensive, making it more expensive for homeowners experiencing an outbreak,” said Brown, noting most traps are only able to capture one rat at a time.

As for cats, they may catch a rat a day, but it’s generally just the youngest and the oldest members of the colony.

Cats also need to be fed, which can inadvertently add to a rat problem.

Brown recalls one time the company was hired to catch a rat in a house and eventually found its nest hidden behind the clothes dryer — about five feet from the cat-food bowl.

After not finding any openings in the exterior of the house, they suspect it was the cat that brought the rat into the house, where it eventually escaped.

Brown said rats have grown so accustomed to eating cat food that pest-control experts routinely bait rat traps with it.

Kaylee Byers, a senior scientist with the Pacific Institute on Pathogens, Pandemics and Society at Simon Fraser University, said the lack of a comprehensive system for rat sightings makes it hard for wildlife biologists to tell if populations are growing.

“The thing is, nobody actually knows and that’s because we don’t have any form of municipal systematic reporting system for rats and rat sightings in the city,” said Byers, who joined the Vancouver Rat Project, an attempt to monitor and study rat movements around the city, in 2013.

“The best thing we have is sort of anecdotal evidence, which is calls to pest-control professionals, but that data is not perfect because not everybody will call a pest-control professional.”

Homeowners can take steps to mitigate a rat problem, including eliminating or minimizing the rat’s access to food, water and habitat in their neighbourhood, and making their properties less inviting for rodents to hang around or live in.

That can include ripping out dense ground coverings close to homes, as the vegetation provides aerial cover against predators and hides the entrances to burrows.

They can also trap rats and administer first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which require multiple feedings.

“Rats are a part of our cities, and managing them is a complex issue,” said Byers. “Part of the problem is that we’re approaching it like it’s a simple one. See a rat, remove a rat, or kill a rat and it’s not working.

“We need to think more broadly, we need to address it as a complex issue in order to come up with innovative and multiple solutions to managing rats now and in the future.”

[email protected]

— With files from The Canadian Press

RCMP officer given probation after bringing handgun to Williams Lake Stampede

Mountie gets probation

An RCMP officer with BC Highway Patrol charged in connection with an off-duty incident in Williams Lake has been sentenced. 

Cst. Olavo Castro received a 12-month probation order with 20 hours of community service for bringing a personal firearm to the Williams Lake Stampede on July 1, 2022.

The Nov. 30, 2023 court ruling notes Castro had a silver and black handgun in his lap while driving, observed by two witnesses who say Castro pulled up in a silver Ford pickup and stated “do we have a problem here” as they were leaving the stampede grounds. 

"The situation was diffused after conversation and a hand shake," adds the ruling, with Castro and the witnesses parting ways.

The two witnesses then alerted police about the interaction, and Castro was found with the description they provided. Castro was detained by police around 2 am at the stampede grounds, and an officer issued an immediate roadside driving prohibition after noticing the smell of alcohol on Castro's breath. 

Castro became emotional and started crying after being arrested, noted the ruling, and shared that he was struggling with PTSD. Police apprehended him under the Mental Health Act and brought Castro to the local hospital.  After treatment, Castro was escorted home by police.  

A search warrant was obtained and executed for Castro's truck, with police seizing a Smith and Wesson handgun, a restricted firearm. The seized gun was not Castro’s service pistol. 

The ruling explained that Castro's PTSD stems from a traumatic incident he attended, where a person was shot in the neck and blood from the victim spread to Castro's face, in his eyes, and on other parts of his uniform. Castro had been removed from duty in December 2021 as a result of the trauma. 

Castro also sought support for his mental health, but began self-medicating with alcohol and cannabis, after finding that support was limited. 

In May 2022, Castro saw a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed him PTSD, cannabis use disorder in early remission, and persistent depressive disorder, which they said was a consequence of “cumulative exposure to operational trauma as an RCMP member complicated by early life experiences”.

Castro entered into a Aftercare Treatment Agreement with the RCMP in October 2022, committing to abstinence from alcohol and drugs. The program entails 16 meetings, connecting with group support and a mentor, and participating in regular drug screening to ensure abstinence. 

"The agreement is active for a two year period with the exception of the first term where he agrees to be abstinent from alcohol and all other mood altering drugs for the rest of his career with the RCMP," notes the ruling. Castro also completed treatment at the Homewood Ravensview Treatment Centre from Aug. 23, 2022 to Oct. 25, 2022. 

Ten support letters were entered as evidence in the proceedings, with testimony from family, friends, fellow RCMP, and firefighters, saying they felt Castro's actions were out of character. 

"At the core of this offence is Mr. Castro’s struggles with his mental health that is a source of the trauma he encountered while engaged in his duties as a police officer.  I find that Mr. Castro was aware of the decline in his mental health and was actively seeking support prior to the offence date to no avail," wrote Justice Raymond Phillips in the ruling. 

"This is unfortunate as it seemed preventable, had the RCMP listened to Mr. Castro and put him on a meaningful path to recovery," Phillips added. 

Castro could still potentially lose his job if he doesn't adhere to the abstinence agreement, and internal disciplinary hearings were expected last fall or sometime in early 2024. Phillips noted he feels Castro has taken responsibility for the incident. 

"I believe he is very capable of continuing in his service to the community as a police officer now that he is on a path to recovery.  I also expect the RCMP will approach disciplinary proceedings through a supportive lens," wrote Phillips, noting public safety was heavily considered in the ruling, due to a targeted shooting injuring two people at the stampede on July 3, just two days later. 

"I expect the community and rodeo organizers have no tolerance for the presence of firearms at the stampede," Phillips added. 

More doctors practising family medicine in B.C., seen as significant change

More family doctors in B.C.

Of the 708 additional physicians working in family practice in B.C. over the past year, 179 — or 25 per cent — are practising on Vancouver Island. That’s a great start in the right direction, says the former president of the Doctors of B.C.

The figures were released as the province marks the one-year anniversary of a new payment model for family physicians; more than 4,000 physicians have signed on.

Having 80 per cent of physicians buy into B.C.’s new Longitudinal Family Physician Payment Model and commit to family practice is “an impressive thing,” said Dr. Joshua Greggain, adding there’s reason to believe more doctors from out of province or the country will also be attracted to the new deal.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said those 708 doctors represent a 16.5 per cent increase in physicians in family practice.

There’s been an 11.3 per cent increase in nurse practitioners, or an additional 60 NPs working in B.C. communities.

That increase meant that on Dec. 31 — after the first nine months with the new payment deal in effect — there were 4,997 physicians working in longtitudinal family practices in B.C.

“It’s now more than 5,000,” said Dix, calling the payment model transformative. “We had people leaving the profession and now we see the numbers growing.”

Of the 708 doctors new to family practice in the province, in addition to the 179 on Vancouver Island, 211 are working in the Vancouver Coastal Health authority, 138 in Interior Health, 132 in Fraser Health, and there was a net increase of 35 family doctors in Northern Health.

A remaining 13 aren’t classified but are believed to be working on service contracts throughout the province.

But an estimated 900,000 people in the province are still without a family doctor, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Dix noted B.C. is adding doctors in the face an increased need from a growing and aging population.

“Two hundred thousand more people coming to B.C. this year — a very significant demand on the system,” said Dix, adding progress is being made as a result of the province working with the Doctors of B.C., nurses and nurse practitioners.

Greggain said there’s real reason for optimism given the increase in family doctors in just a year.

“I know everyone would like the numbers to be a bit higher … but don’t forget two years ago, we were in dire straits and people were closing practices all over the place,” said Greggain.

”So the fact that in British Columbia right now, we’re making a positive growth impact is of real significance,” he said.

The principles of the new payment model for family doctors — compensating doctors for the time taken to care for patients — is to be extended to hospital-based doctors, maternity and long-term care physicians.

This is not the end of the Longitudinal Family Physician Payment Model journey, said Greggain.

“This is a dramatic change from where we were 18 months ago,” said Greggain. It’s not perfect, he added, “but it is a move in a positive direction that we’ve not seen for many years.”

Greggain acknowledges that, with a growing and aging population in B.C., as well as more family doctors retiring or working part-time, it’s hard to gauge the exact number of doctors needed. He said physicians are again choosing to come to work in British Columbia “where they historically would have left for financial reasons,” but the cost of living in Victoria and Vancouver remain obstacles.

“We always wrestle with how do we attract professionals, physicians, nurses, etc. in a place that’s very expensive and so again, there is some shifting back and forth, but I think right now, politically, economically and recruitability wise, people are choosing to come to British Columbia,” he said.

Vancouver-based internal medicine specialist Kevin Mcleod, a critic of the health care system on social media, said family doctors have moved to the new payment model to practise family medicine but have come from hospital work and walk-in clinics. “We’ve shuffled the deck chairs around,” Mcleod wrote on social media site X.

Next, all kinds of incentives will be made to bring doctors back to hospitals and “it goes round and round and the taxpayer and the patients lose,” he wrote.

“What really needs to be done is an increase in training positions now, not years from now.”

The province needs to roll out its new medical school at Simon Fraser University and make it easier for physicians trained in other countries to work in B.C., said Mcleod.

Dix said the province is adding 128 spaces to the University of B.C.’s medical school.

[email protected]

B.C. New Democrat government delivers throne speech, budget on way in election year

B.C. throne speech today

The political agenda for British Columbia Premier David Eby's NDP government heading into an election this fall will take shape today with the delivery of a throne speech starting the spring legislative session.

The speech outlining the government's goals this year comes just ahead of the provincial budget on Thursday and the election this fall.

Recent forecasts from the Ministry of Finance and private financial experts suggest the province will experience slow economic growth this year.

Eby has said he expects the government to table about 20 pieces of new legislation and a budget that looks to help families facing the high cost of living.

The government passed legislation last fall to restrict short-term rentals and build more housing around public transit areas and the housing file is expected to be a major focus again this spring.

Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon promised last week that if elected he would introduce housing initiatives to help first-time homebuyers raise down payments and would eliminate the property transfer tax for buyers of homes under $1 million.


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